WIMBLEDON, England – Lesia Tsurenko’s Wimbledon campaign ended on Friday in a match where her head was elsewhere.
“They are just trying to kill as many people as possible,” Ms. Tsurenko said of the Russian military.
Since February, she has become better at keeping her thoughts on Russia Invades Ukraine out of her mind while she was on the tennis court, but Friday was a bad day. She said she’s felt off balance since waking up, “as if there’s no ground under my feet.” And when she appeared in court before Jule Neimeier of Germany, she said she “didn’t know how to play tennis”.
Professional tennis players are constantly on the move, and training physically and mentally is difficult for even the best tennis players. For players from Ukraine these days, who haven’t been home for months and spend a lot of their free time getting updates on the health and safety of their friends and family members. family back home, this challenge is monumental.
The good news for Ms. Tsurenko is that she seems to have found a semi-permanent home in northern Italy, at an academy run by renowned coach Ricardo Piatti. She has an apartment. Her younger sister, Oksana, recently joined her. So is her husband, Nikita Vlasov, a former army officer, who is ready to return as soon as the call is received but currently the force does not need someone at his level.
“We have no problem with people,” Ms. Tsurenko said, shortly after the defeat. “The problem is heavy weapons.”
Ms. Tsurenko left Ukraine before the war started, so she is not technically a refugee. Recently, she had to miss a tournament to be able to stay in Italy and filed paperwork to allow her to stay there. She is waiting for approval. In addition, her mother, who lives near Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, did not want to leave, despite heavy bombing. Her sister’s mother-in-law also lived there.
Her time playing tennis in the UK over the past month has provided respite. Russian and Belarusian players have competition is prohibited at Wimbledon. Knowing the popularity of President Vladimir V. Putin in Russia, Ms. Tsurenko suggested that some Russian and Belarusian players might support him. Better yet, she said, not to run into them in the dressing room, although she will soon when the WTA Tour takes place outside of England and they return to play.
There have been many matches since the war began on 24 February when Ms. Tsurenko wondered what she was even playing tennis for. One particular match in Marbella, Spain, stands out. That morning, she saw a photograph of an administrative building in Mykolaiv with a large hole due to a missile attack. She couldn’t get that image out of her head.
Recently, however, she has found her sanity. She always plays tennis because she loves the game. The richness that sport offers never motivates her. Now they do.
“Now I play for the money,” she said. “I want to make a lot of money to be able to donate this,” she said, “I feel like it might be a bad quality, because it has nothing to do with tennis, but that’s what I do. playing.”
Coming to the tournament, Ms. Tsurenko, who has four WTA championships in her career and earned more than $5 million, has won $214,000 so far this year. Reaching the third round at Wimbledon helped her earn another $96,000. For the player ranked 101 in the world, it was a steady month. She hopes to have more ahead this summer.